Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Rennie Gibbs, Pregnant at 15, Charged with Murdering her Stillborn Baby

A Mississippi woman is facing murder charges over the death of her stillborn child, and she is not alone.

The Guardian reports on the alarming trend towards criminalizing pregnant women, highlighting some of the many hundreds of cases across the nation in which women are being charged with shocking crimes under laws actually designed to protect them from abusive male partners.

One such woman, Rennie Gibbs, stands accused of murder and faces life in a Mississippi prison over the death of her stillborn child. Gibbs was 15 years old when she got pregnant. She lost her baby at 36 weeks. Prosecutors discovered she had a cocaine habit, and even though there was no evidence that her drug use had anything to do with her baby’s death they threw the book at her, charging her with a “depraved-heart murder.” If convicted, the crime carries a mandatory life sentence.

In neighboring Alabama, at least 40 women have been prosecuted under that state’s “chemical endangerment” law, which was enacted to protect children living in homes where methamphetamine was being cooked from dangerous fumes and explosions. But prosecutors have used the law against women who aren’t even meth-makers.

Amanda Kimbrough is one of them. The irony of it all is that Kimbrough is actually staunchly pro-life, and even when doctors advised her to consider an abortion because her fetus could possibly be born with Down’s syndrome, she insisted on giving birth. But her baby died minutes after being delivered by caesarean section, and six months later Kimbrough found herself under arrest for “chemical endangerment” due to allegations that she took drugs while pregnant. She vehemently denies this.

“That shocked me, it really did,” Kimbrough told the Guardian. “I had lost a child, that was enough.”

Women’s rights advocates say that laws like these are evidence of an increasing criminalization of pregnant women, a sort of back-door attempt by anti-abortion forces to roll back hard-won reproductive rights. “Women are being stripped of their constitutional personhood and subjected to truly cruel laws,” Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) told the Guardian. 

In Mississippi, anti-abortion groups and some conservative politicians want to amend the state constitution to re-define the definition of a person to include a fetus from the moment of conception.

But fetal homicide laws, which exist in at least 38 states, were not intended to target would-be mothers, they were designed to protect those women and girls from abusive males. But women now find themselves victimized by the very laws that are meant to protect them. In South Carolina, for example, NAPW found only one instance in which fetal homicide law was applied against a man who assaulted a pregnant woman (and that case was thrown out), compared to as many as 300 women who have been arrested for something they were accused of doing during the course of their pregnancy.

The misuse of fetal homicide and chemical endangerment laws also demonstrates the ignorance of those who would make murderers out of women and girls who suffer from the disease of addiction. In an amicus brief filed in support of Rennie Gibbs, a group of psychologists argue that Gibbs’s cocaine use was not the result of a “depraved heart,” but rather “to satisfy an acute psychological and physical need” for cocaine.

And worse, perhaps, is the irony of increased abortions by woman looking to avoid criminal prosecution in the event their baby dies. “Prosecuting women and girls for continuing [a pregnancy] to term despite a drug addiction encourages them to terminate unwanted pregnancies to avoid criminal penalties,” the amicus brief asserts. “The state could not have intended this result when it adopted the homicide statute.”




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  1. demetriosJuly 6, 2011 at 8:35 pmReply

    This is an outrage! Why are there no comments of outrage? This is worse treatment of women than anything else in the world! Worse than what the Taliban do!
    Shame to Alabama and Mississippi.
    Alabama also has a new law giving police the authority to arrest anybody they suspect may be an undocumented alien!
    I will not drive through Alabama again, and I will send my pregnant wife to give birth in Europe, where this insanity does not exist!

  2. Trevon CarterJuly 8, 2011 at 1:50 pmReply

    This is TRULY upsetting. Along with losing a child, women risk losing their freedom? And they believe its going to help lower abortions? America as a whole have completely lost their minds. As far as aliens, I’m an 18 yr old white-Indian-jamaican mix. My father was an undocumented alien while he was here. He was deported when I was 2 leaving me fatherless. I believe they shouldn’t look at what they are, but the circumstances they are in. The number of youth growing up in single parent homes are staggering in these days. In the state America is in, we can’t afford having “extra”, true. but some families can’t afford having no father.

  3. Brittanie HessDecember 9, 2011 at 6:28 pmReply

    Sign the petition to show your outrage with this issue – this poor girl has had her freedom ripped out of the palm of her hands.

    • Benethia gibbsJanuary 18, 2012 at 6:48 pmReply

      HI Brittaine, My name is Benethia GIbbs an Rennie is my sister and I love her too death. I wish we had more people like you on our side. I just want to say think you for not judging her like other doing.

  4. HeatherMarch 19, 2014 at 2:56 pmReply

    If I had a toddler, and I gave her an eightball of cocaine and she died…..should I be charged with murder? If I drink a bottle of vodka and drive, plowing into a school bus and killing half a dozen kids I should get off because I have an addiction?

    Restrictive abortion access notwithstanding, this girl was seven, eight months pregnant when she delivered her dead child. This implies she was intending to bring to term a child and let that child live. This means she was accepting responsibility for that child while she was in her womb, it was her job to keep her unborn daughter safe, protected and as healthy as she could. It doesn’t take a rocket science to know that cocaine and pregnancy doesn’t mix, any more than alcohol and pregnancy mix. Everyone is all off on “oh the poor girl, her child is dead and now she’s being charged blah blah blah”. It was her choice to take cocaine while pregnant. Once you choose to bring to term, it’s assumed you want that child to live. I’m all for choice, but once it’s made, it’s made. This was wrong of her to do. Should she get life in prison? No. But mandatory in patient rehab followed by some incarceration would be fair in my mind.

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